Structural Analysis: Prefixes, Suffixes & Roots

Structural Analysis (aka Morphemic Analysis)

Students need strategies to independently acquire new words. Teaching students to use word parts to figure out the meanings of words in text can be beneficial to their vocabulary development. "Knowing some common prefixes and suffixes (affixes), base words, and root words can help students learn the meanings of many new words" (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborn, 2001). Morphemic analysis uses roots and affixes to derive meaning from an unknown word. Researchers suggest that teachers explicitly teach common roots and affixes, including inflectional and derivational suffixes (Baumann & Kame’enui, 2004).

The meaningful parts of a word are called morphemes, which are the smallest units of meaning in a word. A morpheme may be a word or only part of a word, but it may be more than one syllable. A morpheme that can stand alone as a word is a free morpheme, but bound morphemes must be attached to other morphemes in order to form a complete word.


The word cats has two morphemes: cat and s . Cat is a free morpheme, and s is a bound morpheme that means more than one.


There are two types of suffixes .

Inflectional suffixes change number, tense or degree.

  Number: dog à dogs

  Tense: jump à jumping, jumped

  Degree: happy à happier (comparative), funny à funniest (superlative)

Derivational suffixes change the part of speech.

  fame (noun) à famous (adjective)

  quick (adjective) à quickly (adverb)

  celebrate (verb) à celebration (noun)


Prefixes have three functions: specify negation, direction or intensity.

  Negation: uncooperative, noncompliant, antithesis

  Direction: eject (throw out), reject (throw back), inject (throw in), project

  (throw forward), subject (throw under), dejected (throw down)

  Intensity: intense, extreme (in these words i n- and ex- mean very)


  Words of Anglo-Saxon origin attach prefixes and suffixes to base words (free morphemes that can stand alone as words) while words derived from Latin attach prefixes and suffixes to root words (bound morphemes that cannot stand alone as words). The Greek layer of our language uses combining forms, which are also bound morphemes.

  Anglo-Saxon: wooden = wood (base word) + en (suffix)

      kingdom = king (base word) + dom (suffix)

  Latin:     invisible = in (prefix) + vis (root) + ible (suffix)

      construction = con (prefix) + struc (root) + tion (suffix)

  Greek:   chlorophyll = chloro + phyll (both combining forms)

      photograph = photo + graph (both combining forms)

Affix: a meaningful part of a word (morpheme) that is attached before or after a root to modify its meaning (prefixes and suffixes).

Base word: a free morpheme (can stand alone as a word) to which affixes can be added, usually Anglo-Saxon in origin.

Combining form: morphemes that can be arranged and attached in a variety of ways without strict adherence to order within the word

Derivational suffix:   a bound morpheme added to the end of a root or base word that changes the part of speech of the word.

Inflectional suffix: a bound morpheme that is a grammatical ending for a base word; it does not change the part of speech of the word but marks the number, tense or degree in English.

Morphology: the study of the meaningful units in a language and how they are combined in word formation.

Prefix:   a bound morpheme that precedes a root or base word and modifies its meaning.

Root: a bound morpheme that cannot stand alone but that is used to form a family of words with related meanings, usually of Latin origin.

Structural analysis: the study of affixes, base words, and roots.

Suffix: a grammatical ending added to a root or base word that modifies its meaning.

Downloadable Resources:

Kansas Reading Assessment Resource : This handout contains a complete list of all tested prefixes, suffixes, and roots for grades 3 - HS. It includes definitions and examples. Although no longer identifying specific morphemes for each grade level, the Common Core State Standards still emphasize structural analysis at all grade levels. Therefore, this handout is still a valuable resource for teachers.

Mary Dahlgren ~ Tools 4 Reading
Common Morphemes

Websites: - One of the most comprehensive online references of English language word roots.

The WordWorks Literacy Centre

This website has resources, videos, and tools for using structural analysis, including word matrices that identify affixes that fit with specific roots. Students can use the words matrices to do word sums and create word webs.

Matrix Maker  

Neil Ramsden provides a template for making word matrices. 


Reading Rockets: Root Words, Roots and Affixes

 Reading Rockets provides a downloadable list of common roots, prefixes and suffixes.


Most Common Prefixes and Suffixes s_suffixes.pdf



Online Etymological Dictionary   


Kim Seymour’s Site

Kim Seymour provides PowerPoints with common Latin and Greek roots.  


Educational Tutorial Consortium

ETC has practice cards and workbooks for prefixes, roots and suffixes.



Suffixes by Susan Ebbers (Vocabulogic)

Susan Ebbers provides a thorough discussion of the role of suffixes.


Building Vocabulary with Prefixes, Roots and Suffixes

List of common prefixes, roots and suffixes.